Change and Persistence

September 27th, 2012

My title might seem a crass reminder of the so-themed CUNY IT Conference in late November, and it is, but it’s much more about the thinking provoked by reading through the proposals submitted, something I’m doing with a dozen other raters. (We come up with scores independently, then compare notes.) The question is not just what persists but what’s worth investing in. The economy’s turning around, innovation’s resurging, and we need to think about what we need.

We could start with what Derrida called une réponse de Normand (a favorite strategy of his): saying what it is not. What won’t serve us well is mere trendiness, the sorts of things fixated on by the popular press. The one constant is that we’re awash in innovations with the lifespan of mayflies, particularly new devices (or new versions of old devices). This is not to say that these things don’t make a difference, that they aren’t important. But the latest take on the new iPhone is a good deal less important than having a mobile strategy.

That goes for teaching trends as well. I’ve probably said enough about MOOCs, though the latest turn in the conversation, manifested here and there, is that these massive open online courses might be good for textbook publishers as well as publicity. So we’re starting to see ways of making money on vast “free” courses, but the fact is that you are not going to change education a course at a time, however “mega” that course is, particularly if you don’t bring the faculty on board. You need strategies (like the flipped classroom) that affect teaching and learning much more pervasively and generally.

What you especially need in all this swirling ephemerality is a center that holds — and remembers. That’s why it’s so exciting that discussions are beginning around an institutional repository for CUNY, one that might not be the static stash of PDFs so many IRs are but something much more dynamic because linked to the activity of the CUNY Academic Commons.  If we could devise a way to help faculty represent themselves and their work (possibly even work in progress or in sites of collaboration) through an IR, that could be a very exciting prospect.

For an inkling of what this might amount to (and a needed corrective to my snarky remark about static stashes of PDFs), see my July post on interesting work from the Digital Conservancy at the University of Minnesota. If we look to some of these more innovative models, there’s a chance for CUNY to leapfrog from the back of the pack to the front, from being one of the relatively few universities without an IR to a university redefining the possibilities for IRs. The Commons has shown a capacity to get out in front thus. We did it once. We can do it again.

And we have good reason. Venues for scholarly publication are at once shrinking (especially university presses) and expanding (especially for new, non-traditional forms and formats). Teaching innovations are proliferating, but so is the need to share them — and to separate the wheat from the chaff. Open pre- and post-publication peer review is becoming more widespread. CUNY faculty can look elsewhere for such innovations, but they would be so much better off if they had their own resources for vetting, sharing, and archiving their stuff. And so would CUNY.

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